One year in higher education with a persistent virtual campus

NEOMA Virtual Campus

This article sums up the keynote of Alain Goudey, Chief Digital Officer at NEOMA Business School, during the EOCCS Symposium 2021.

What is a persistent virtual campus?

The NEOMA Business School persistent virtual campus, which opened in September 2020, is represented by an island called Laval Virtual World. It is operated by our partner Laval Virtual on which we run the main building of NEOMA, located on the top of the hills. Our building contains more than 85 meeting spaces and offices, classrooms, auditorium, etc. In reality, it consists of more than 10,000 sqm, which is opened for our entire community: staff and faculty members and the 9,000+ students.

You connect with an application on your laptop by creating a personalised avatar to attend work meetings, conferences, classes or any kind of events connected to your curriculum or the campus life (we have operated concerts during the lockdowns!) and to gather with other people while being remote.

How to speed up the adoption of a virtual campus in higher education?

Inspired by all the experiments around Second Life, we have been thinking of this technology even before the crisis, but the coronavirus context has drastically accelerated our path. However, our vision, strategy, and operations were fully aligned to allow this move in the future of education.

Indeed, NEOMA’s students are geographically distant in Reims, Rouen and Paris. We have been looking for a while to get a sense of unity in terms of time and space to create a common spirit among our community across the distance. We have benchmarked different technologies and have chosen the most inclusive ones (hundreds of avatars at the same time, not a cutting-edge PC to run, not necessarily with VR headsets, etc.) as we are thinking innovations through the lens of scalability.

Moreover, thanks to its path on digital transformation that began years before our organisation, it is not new in the world of immersive technologies as we have produced several virtual reality-based case studies since 2016. More than 3700 of our students have used them (visit our website to know more as you can also run our VR case studies within your institutions). Through this, we were mature enough to roll out a full campus using persistent virtual technology, and we already knew the right people to do it.

Last but not least, our organisation by itself was designed to operate such a move as we have provided strong support to faculty and staff members to permit a fast adoption of this technology. Even if the environment is simple to use, there is a need for redesigning and rethinking the learning experience in a virtual campus (which is literally in between online learning and on-campus experience). At NEOMA, innovation is explored by one team and exploitation is done by another at the core of our Faculty so that we can fully apply our test and learn processes to pedagogy, not being glued by daily operations.

How has the virtual campus been received?

Thanks to this persistent virtual world, we have hybridised the positive sides of both digital and presential contexts in an interesting alternative of teaching distant learning. Thus, we have created an alternative to distant classes based on videoconferencing tools. Coupled with the traditional ‘wahoo effect’ induced by innovation, our students’ feedback was amazing! Indeed, in a new routine of connecting to your class through video, we were proposing to be embodied in an avatar like in gaming and maybe in the near future (see Facebook Workrooms announcement in September 2021)!

Students were really amazed by the opportunity to feel a sense of being together in the same space (even represented by an avatar) and moving altogether in that space. Moreover, on a pedagogical side, it makes sense to redesign distant classes with this tool which is a real in-between on campus and remote. Thus at NEOMA, we consider our persistent virtual campus the 4th campus of the school where many activities will happen, even after the pandemic.